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Pattern language, form language, general systems theory, R-theory

One of the challenges with the development of pattern languages is the cross-appropriation of approaches of techniques from one domain (i.e. built physical environments) into others (e.g. software development, social change).

The distinction between pattern language and form language is made by Nikos Salingaros.

Design in architecture and urbanism is guided by two distinct complementary languages: a pattern language, and a form language.

The pattern language contains rules for how human beings interact with built forms — a pattern language codifies practical solutions developed over millennia, which are appropriate to local customs, society, and climate.

A form language, on the other hand, consists of geometrical rules for putting matter together. It is visual and tectonic, traditionally arising from available materials and their human uses rather than from images. Different form languages correspond to different architectural traditions, or styles. The problem is that not all form languages are adaptive to human sensibilities. Those that are not adaptive can never connect to a pattern language. Every adaptive design method combines a pattern language with a viable form language, otherwise it inevitably creates alien environments.  [Salingaros, 2014]

The focus on form is apparent in the title of Notes on the Synthesis of Form [Alexander, 1964].  Form has geometry, that brings up the idea of “life” in The Nature of Order.

Chapter Five:  Fifteen Fundamental Properties

I have introduced the idea of life as something which may occur in any spatial system, and suggested that a degree of life which appears in a thing depends on the life its component centers and their density. 

Read more (in a new tab)

One of the challenges with the development of pattern languages is the cross-appropriation of approaches of techniques from one domain (i.e. built physical environments) into others (e.g. software development, social change).

The distinction between pattern language and form language is made by Nikos Salingaros.

Design in architecture and urbanism is guided by two distinct complementary languages: a pattern language, and a form language.

The pattern language contains rules for how human beings interact with built forms — a pattern language codifies practical solutions developed over millennia, which are appropriate to local customs, society, and climate.

A form language, on the other hand, consists of geometrical rules for putting matter together. It is visual and tectonic, traditionally arising from available materials and their human uses rather than from images. Different form languages correspond to different architectural traditions, or styles. The problem is that not all form languages are adaptive to human sensibilities. Those that are not adaptive can never connect to a pattern language. Every adaptive design method combines a pattern language with a viable form language, otherwise it inevitably creates alien environments.  [Salingaros, 2014]

The focus on form is apparent in the title of Notes on the Synthesis of Form [Alexander, 1964].  Form has geometry, that brings up the idea of “life” in The Nature of Order.

Chapter Five:  Fifteen Fundamental Properties

I have introduced the idea of life as something which may occur in any spatial system, and suggested that a degree of life which appears in a thing depends on the life its component centers and their density. 

Read more (in a new tab)

Systems Changes: Learning from the Christopher Alexander Legacy (ST-ON, 2019/02/11)

One of the aims of the Systems Changes research program is to build on the pattern language approach.  This body of work stretches back into the 1960s, and has been cross-appropriated from built environments to software development (e.g. agile methods) and organizational change.  The February 2019 meeting of Systems Thinking Ontario was an opportunity to bring some people not familiar with the territory up to speed.

Here is the abstract for the talk:

The 1977 book, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction is prominent in public library collections around the world. It represents, however, only one stage of the many works by Christopher Alexander, from his first book published in 1964, to his final book released in 2012. In addition multiple international conferences continue his legacy, in architecture and urban design (PUARL, for 10 years), in software development (PLoP, for 25 years), and in social change (PURPLSOC, for 5 years). Alexander was a builder of environment structure — an architect — and other communities have aspired to adopt the approach that he championed.

This Systems Thinking Ontario session will review pattern languages in three parts:

  1. The Eishin School project (1985, published as a book in 2012);
  2. Multi-Service Centers (1968); and
  3. Beyond Built Environments, cross-appropriating the approach from architecture to other domains.

The pursuit of “systems generating systems” at the foundation of Christopher Alexander’s pattern language has generally not been appreciated, and deserves a deeper inquiry.

Read more (in a new tab)

One of the aims of the Systems Changes research program is to build on the pattern language approach.  This body of work stretches back into the 1960s, and has been cross-appropriated from built environments to software development (e.g. agile methods) and organizational change.  The February 2019 meeting of Systems Thinking Ontario was an opportunity to bring some people not familiar with the territory up to speed.

Here is the abstract for the talk:

The 1977 book, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction is prominent in public library collections around the world. It represents, however, only one stage of the many works by Christopher Alexander, from his first book published in 1964, to his final book released in 2012. In addition multiple international conferences continue his legacy, in architecture and urban design (PUARL, for 10 years), in software development (PLoP, for 25 years), and in social change (PURPLSOC, for 5 years). Alexander was a builder of environment structure — an architect — and other communities have aspired to adopt the approach that he championed.

This Systems Thinking Ontario session will review pattern languages in three parts:

  1. The Eishin School project (1985, published as a book in 2012);
  2. Multi-Service Centers (1968); and
  3. Beyond Built Environments, cross-appropriating the approach from architecture to other domains.

The pursuit of “systems generating systems” at the foundation of Christopher Alexander’s pattern language has generally not been appreciated, and deserves a deeper inquiry.

Read more (in a new tab)

Narrating Wholeness: Pattern Language Generating Semi-Lattice(s), System(s), and/or Holon(s) (PUARL 2018/10/27)

In what ways might the generation of wholeness through pattern language be strengthened, through an appreciation of advances in the systems sciences?  A workshop at the 2018 International PUARL Conference was an opportunity to review linkages and discuss some details.

An outline to frame the conversation was written in three parts.

  • 1. Communicative Framing
    • 1.1 Form and synthesis
    • 1.2 Organization as semi-lattice
    • 1.3 Systems generating systems
    • 1.4 Generative patterns and non-generative patterns in software development
    •  1.5 System-A and system-B, as two ways of shaping and building living environments
    • 1.6 Holons (from systems ecology)
  • 2. Dialectical Sensemaking
    • 2.1 Types of systems and models
    • 2.2 Autopoiesis and allopoiesis
    • 2.3 Economies as agricultural, industrial and services (coproduction)
  • 3. Narrative Synthesizing

In full, the abstract read:

Does a pattern language generate into (a) whole(s)? This workshop will discuss the meaning of architecting a system, complemented with recent research from the systems sciences.

In 1967, at the formation for Center for Environmental Structure, Pattern Manual specified that (sub)systems are fewer in number (and implicitly larger) than patterns:

The environmental pattern language will contain hundreds of subsystems and tens of thousands of individual patterns. Every conceivable kind of building, every part of every kind of building, and every piece of the larger environment will be specified by one or more subsystems of the environmental pattern language.

In summary: An environmental pattern language is a coordinated body of design solutions capable of generating the complete physical structure of a city.

Read more (in a new tab)

In what ways might the generation of wholeness through pattern language be strengthened, through an appreciation of advances in the systems sciences?  A workshop at the 2018 International PUARL Conference was an opportunity to review linkages and discuss some details.

An outline to frame the conversation was written in three parts.

  • 1. Communicative Framing
    • 1.1 Form and synthesis
    • 1.2 Organization as semi-lattice
    • 1.3 Systems generating systems
    • 1.4 Generative patterns and non-generative patterns in software development
    •  1.5 System-A and system-B, as two ways of shaping and building living environments
    • 1.6 Holons (from systems ecology)
  • 2. Dialectical Sensemaking
    • 2.1 Types of systems and models
    • 2.2 Autopoiesis and allopoiesis
    • 2.3 Economies as agricultural, industrial and services (coproduction)
  • 3. Narrative Synthesizing

In full, the abstract read:

Does a pattern language generate into (a) whole(s)? This workshop will discuss the meaning of architecting a system, complemented with recent research from the systems sciences.

In 1967, at the formation for Center for Environmental Structure, Pattern Manual specified that (sub)systems are fewer in number (and implicitly larger) than patterns:

The environmental pattern language will contain hundreds of subsystems and tens of thousands of individual patterns. Every conceivable kind of building, every part of every kind of building, and every piece of the larger environment will be specified by one or more subsystems of the environmental pattern language.

In summary: An environmental pattern language is a coordinated body of design solutions capable of generating the complete physical structure of a city.

Read more (in a new tab)

Evolving Pattern Language towards an Affordance Language (Almaden, 2018/05/09)

With a visit of one week at IBM Research Almaden with @rarar and @jimspohrer , I was invited to give a talk.  As an IBM alumnus who was active in pattern language community from the mid-1990s, this was an occasion to surface some history of science about activities inside the company that is otherwise opaque.  This history shapes my aspirations and predispositions towards continuing the development of pattern language in new domains.

The high-level agenda aimed to cover three parts:

  • 1. 1964 → 1999 → 2012: 
    Synthesis of Form→OOPSLA 1996→Battle (Eishin)
  • 2. 1993 →2002→2006→2010: 
    Hillside Group→IGS Method→AWB→Eclipse
  • 3. 2014 → … : 
    Wicked Messes→Service Systems Thinking

Here’s the abstract sent in advance of my arrival:

Pattern language has its origins from architects of built physical environments. The approach was cross-appropriated into software development methods at the rise of object-oriented design, and was influential in the emerging styles with agile practices. The idea has been extended into social change. Are the philosophical foundations from the 1960s-1970s appropriate for the 21st century era of service science, and innovations in augmented intelligence?

The communities of interest on pattern language are coming together (i.e. PLoP and PUARL-Purplsoc are colocating in Portland, OR, in October 2018), coming from three historical subgroups.

The PUARL subgroup is led by former students of Christopher Alexander from the Center for Environmental Structure at Berkeley in the 1970s. They continue to work on “towns, buildings and construction”, with recent interests in large scale incidents (e.g.

Read more (in a new tab)

With a visit of one week at IBM Research Almaden with @rarar and @jimspohrer , I was invited to give a talk.  As an IBM alumnus who was active in pattern language community from the mid-1990s, this was an occasion to surface some history of science about activities inside the company that is otherwise opaque.  This history shapes my aspirations and predispositions towards continuing the development of pattern language in new domains.

The high-level agenda aimed to cover three parts:

  • 1. 1964 → 1999 → 2012: 
    Synthesis of Form→OOPSLA 1996→Battle (Eishin)
  • 2. 1993 →2002→2006→2010: 
    Hillside Group→IGS Method→AWB→Eclipse
  • 3. 2014 → … : 
    Wicked Messes→Service Systems Thinking

Here’s the abstract sent in advance of my arrival:

Pattern language has its origins from architects of built physical environments. The approach was cross-appropriated into software development methods at the rise of object-oriented design, and was influential in the emerging styles with agile practices. The idea has been extended into social change. Are the philosophical foundations from the 1960s-1970s appropriate for the 21st century era of service science, and innovations in augmented intelligence?

The communities of interest on pattern language are coming together (i.e. PLoP and PUARL-Purplsoc are colocating in Portland, OR, in October 2018), coming from three historical subgroups.

The PUARL subgroup is led by former students of Christopher Alexander from the Center for Environmental Structure at Berkeley in the 1970s. They continue to work on “towns, buildings and construction”, with recent interests in large scale incidents (e.g.

Read more (in a new tab)

Negotiating Order with Generative Pattern Language

Positioning “A Pattern Language” more like “Creating Order of”, then “The Timeless Way of Building” more like “Negotiating Order with”, was a productive framing to discuss the systems theory inside Christopher Alexander’s thinking (as well as positioning “The Nature of Order“).

The purpose of a workshop on “Negotiating Order with Generative Pattern Language” at PLoP 2017 was to open up discussions that could deepen the foundational understanding in linkages between pattern language and systems thinking. At least three of us routed to Vancouver BC for a Monday morning start, in a quick trip from the Purplsoc meeting in Austria that finished on Saturday.  The PLoP program emphasizing writers’ workshops meant that our 90-minute dialogue didn’t conflict with any presentations.

On the audio recording, active participants in the sensemaking included Helene Finidori and Christian Kohls.  With a more relaxed pace, the open time after the slides were completed allowed some pattern language novices to also have questions answered.

PLoP 2017

The frame for discussion was slides that had previously been posted on the Coevolving Commons.

The digital audio recording has been matched up with slides, for a less ambiguous viewing as a web video.

For observers who prefer to be mobile, video files can be downloaded directly on a device.

Video H.264 MP4 WebM
Digital video
(1h38m45s)
[20171023_PLoP_Ing NegotiatingOrder HD 537kpbs m4v]
(HD 537Kbps 379MB)
[20171023_PLoP_Ing NegotiatingOrder nHD 214kpbs m4v]
(nHD 214Kkps 151MB)
[20171023_PLoP_Ing NegotiatingOrder HD 348kpbs webm]
(HD 348Kbps 245MB)
[20171023_PLoP_Ing NegotiatingOrder nHD 168kpbs webm]
(nHD 168Kbps 119MB)

The downloadable audio recording includes the conversation of all participants.… Read more (in a new tab)

Positioning “A Pattern Language” more like “Creating Order of”, then “The Timeless Way of Building” more like “Negotiating Order with”, was a productive framing to discuss the systems theory inside Christopher Alexander’s thinking (as well as positioning “The Nature of Order“).

The purpose of a workshop on “Negotiating Order with Generative Pattern Language” at PLoP 2017 was to open up discussions that could deepen the foundational understanding in linkages between pattern language and systems thinking. At least three of us routed to Vancouver BC for a Monday morning start, in a quick trip from the Purplsoc meeting in Austria that finished on Saturday.  The PLoP program emphasizing writers’ workshops meant that our 90-minute dialogue didn’t conflict with any presentations.

On the audio recording, active participants in the sensemaking included Helene Finidori and Christian Kohls.  With a more relaxed pace, the open time after the slides were completed allowed some pattern language novices to also have questions answered.

PLoP 2017

The frame for discussion was slides that had previously been posted on the Coevolving Commons.

The digital audio recording has been matched up with slides, for a less ambiguous viewing as a web video.

For observers who prefer to be mobile, video files can be downloaded directly on a device.

Video H.264 MP4 WebM
Digital video
(1h38m45s)
[20171023_PLoP_Ing NegotiatingOrder HD 537kpbs m4v]
(HD 537Kbps 379MB)
[20171023_PLoP_Ing NegotiatingOrder nHD 214kpbs m4v]
(nHD 214Kkps 151MB)
[20171023_PLoP_Ing NegotiatingOrder HD 348kpbs webm]
(HD 348Kbps 245MB)
[20171023_PLoP_Ing NegotiatingOrder nHD 168kpbs webm]
(nHD 168Kbps 119MB)

The downloadable audio recording includes the conversation of all participants.… Read more (in a new tab)

Exploring the Context of Pattern Languages

Pattern language is not for wicked problems, said Max Jacobson, coauthor with Christopher Alexander of the 1977 A Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Construction.  In addition, the conventional definition of an Alexandrian pattern as “a solution to a problem in context” when applied to social change might better use the term “intervention”, rather than “solution”.

These are two of the major ideas that emerged at Purplsoc 2017 conference last October.  A 90-minute workshop was run in parallel with other breakouts.

For about the first hour, vocal participants included Max Jacobson (who had given a plenary talk on “A Building is not a Turkish Carpet“), Christian Kohls (who gave a plenary talk on “Patterns for Creative Space“) and Peter Baumgarnter (one of the Purlpsoc chairs).

As an impetus to discussion, we stepped through slides that had been posted on the Coevolving Commons.

For people who would like the next-best experience to being there, the slides have now been matched up with the digital audio recording, for viewing as a web video.

For devices decoupled from the Internet, downloadable video files are portable.

Video H.264 MP4 WebM
Digital video
(1h22m51s)
[20171021_Purplsoc_Ing_Exploring HD_578kpbs m4v]
(HD 578Kbps 342MB)
[20171021_Purplsoc_Ing_Exploring nHD_477kpbs m4v]
(nHD 495Kkps 283MB)
[20171021_Purplsoc_Ing_Exploring HD_416kpbs webm]
(HD 416Kbps 246MB)
[20171021_Purplsoc_Ing_Exploring nHD_191kpbs webm]
(nHD 191Kbps 114MB)

The length of the conversation may encourage listeners to download an audio recording.… Read more (in a new tab)

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